Can Your Boss Make You Work Overtime?

Is it legal for an employer to require more than 40 hours of work from an employee?

Adam Freedman
3-minute read

Today’s topic: Can your boss make you work overtime? 

And now, your daily dose of legalese:  This article does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader.  In other words, although I am a lawyer, I’m not your lawyer.  In fact, we barely know each other. If you need personalized legal advice, contact an attorney in your community.

Can My Boss Make Me Work Overtime?

Heather writes in asking whether it’s legal for an employer to make overtime mandatory?  According to Heather, “I still get the time-and-a-half pay for any time over 40 hours worked, but my supervisor has said that we MUST work no less than 50 hours per week until further notice.”

Heather, I’m amazed you found the time to write to me!  The quick answer is that it probably is legal for your employer to require a 50-hour work week, provided that they pay you overtime, which apparently is happening in your case.   There are a few twists to overtime law, however.

Federal Law Defines the 40-Hour Week

The main law dealing with wage and hour limits is the federal Fair Labor Standards Act or FSLA, passed in 1938, but amended many times since.

The FSLA defines the 40-hour work week, establishes the federal minimum wage, and places restrictions on child labor.  The FSLA applies to employers who have more than $500,000 in annual sales, or who are engaged in interstate commerce – and, remember, interstate commerce is defined broadly. If your company uses the mail to send stuff, you’re probably engaged in interstate commerce. 

Your boss can make you work more than 40 hours a week, but he may have to pay overtime.

There is No Legal Maximum to the Hours Worked

Although the FSLA establishes the 40-hour work week, it does not put an upper limit on the number of hours your boss can ask you to work.  However, it does require that any worker covered by the statute who works more than 40 hours per week must get paid time-and-a-half for any hours worked above that number. 


About the Author

Adam Freedman

Adam Freedman is a lawyer and a regular contributor to Point of Law and Ricochet. Freedman’s legal commentary has been featured in The New York Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and on Public Radio. He holds degrees from Yale, Oxford, and the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Naked Constitution (2012).